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J Fam Psychol. 2012 Feb;26(1):36-45. doi: 10.1037/a0026608. Epub 2011 Dec 19.

First-time parents' expectations about the division of childcare and play.

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  • 1Department of Psychology, Kent State University, Kent, OH 44242-0001, USA.


The current study examines violated expectations regarding the division of childcare and play in first-time parents during the initial transition to parenthood. The study's goal was threefold: (a) to compare prenatal expectations with the reported postpartum division of childcare and play, (b) to compare the influence of the reported division versus violated expectations on postpartum relationship satisfaction and depression, and (c) to examine the role of persistent violations of expectations on these outcomes. Couples expecting their first child were interviewed during the third trimester of pregnancy and at 1 and 4 months postpartum. Results indicated both mothers and fathers have unrealistic expectations during pregnancy; interestingly, the direction violation was opposite but converging for mothers and fathers. As found in prior research, mothers experienced unmet expectations with fathers doing less than mothers expected. Fathers, on the other hand, experienced overmet expectations with mothers doing more than fathers expected. Violated expectations were also a stronger predictor of depression and relationship satisfaction than the reported division, although again in opposite directions for mothers and fathers. Unmet expectations were negative for mothers, while overmet expectations with regard to childcare tasks were beneficial for fathers. The one caveat was for fathers' overmet expectations with play; in this case, a mother playing with the baby more than a father expected was related to less relationship satisfaction. A similar pattern of results was found for mothers and fathers with persistent violations. This study highlights the importance of understanding violated expectations in both mothers and fathers, as well as examining play separately from childcare.

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